Newsletter #10

Newsletter #10

My newsletter gets sent out 8 times a year – you can subscribe here. This is the newsletter that was sent on 20 March 2019…

Higgs’ Foolish Octannual Manual #10

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs

Spring Equinox 2019

There’s no avoiding it, politics here in Britain are currently totally nuts.


One side effect of our Brexit delirium is that we’re witnessing the Great British Coming Out Party. Most people on these islands understand that we are not the sanest, and they are pretty comfortable with this. Our history is a long balancing act of keeping things just-about-working whilst we drunkenly freak out on the heath. You can see examples of who we are in work as varied at the @Coldwar_Steve twitter account or the BBC4 art film Arcadia. We are a surrealist, psychedelic mob who howl at the moon as politely as possible.

If you had to distil this complex, irrational and multi-faceted national personality down to a single universal archetype, the closest you can find is the Fool. I’m not being critical here. Being the Fool really isn’t the worst. The Fool traditionally has the right to speak truth to power and is often the only character who can understand the big picture. It is only the Fool who gets the Cosmic Joke, and if you have not seen the humour in something, you have not seen the truth of it. Plus, the Fool is allowed to muck about and arse around, in search of what National Treasure Bob Mortimer calls “daft laffs and that”. This is a pretty good deal. When you’re the fool, different rules apply.


When I say most British people understand that we’re the Fool, I don’t mean everyone. Part of being a really good Fool requires pomposity and arrogance and having no idea at all that you’re the Fool. We have a special section of society who take on that role for us. They genuinely have no idea, because they are sent to different schools to keep the truth from them. They are taught that the ‘Great’ in ‘Great Britain’ is more than just a geographical term and, God love them, even as adults they still believe this. They genuinely have no idea what this country is like. Despite living here, and being occasionally exposed to the people and the culture, they still somehow think we are Downton Abbey.

Unfortunately, they also believe that power is their birthright and sometimes we foolishly support them in this. It’s like a toddler trying to drive a bus; you know it’s not wise, but you want to see it. Alas, one of them got into power and decided to ask the British people in a referendum if they wanted to tell a bunch of politicians to go and fuck themselves, thinking that they would say no. That’s probably worth dwelling on a little. He asked the British people – the British people, that’s the British people – if they wanted to tell some politicians to go fuck themselves, and thought they would say no. During a time of austerity. He genuinely thought that. Those are real thoughts that he had in his head. Such is the extent to which the social niqab of elite education blinds its victims to the actuality of this country.

Oddly, a number of other countries, despite all evidence to the contrary, have also taken the view that we are Downton Abbey. Quite why they did this I know not. I assume they have their own pathologies to deal with. But suddenly, thanks to Brexit, these countries are now sitting up in alarm and crying, ‘My God! Look at Britain! They are not Downton Abbey. They are the Fool!’ As a Dutch Journalist said to Jonathan Coe, ‘We love Monty Python, but we always thought it was comedy, not a reality show.’ You might think, ‘No shit, Sherlock’, but this is significant.

We have had a global coming out party. The Downton Abbey spell has shattered. We stand here exposed, butt naked, and our role as the Fool can no longer be denied. This is not something we can undo. This is us for good now. You can’t unring a bell.


We’re in new territory. Exposed as we are, we now have to make the decision we have been able to put off for too long. We are now understood to be the Fool, but exactly what type of Fool are we? There are options.

Are we the timid, fearful, poodle-type Fool, seeking a master to discipline and lead it? We can do that.

Or are we the Arrogant Fool – the boisterous pain in the arse, hitting downwards, putting it about and not caring about our impact on anyone else? We can do that as well.

Perhaps we are the Happy-Go-Lucky Fool, doing our best to have a good time despite everything. There’s a long tradition of this.

Or are we the tell-truth-to-power type Fool? It’s a bit of a thankless task, admitedly, but someone has to do it.

Or could we be the strange surrealist Fool, the Lord of Misrule, odd as all hell and entirely unpredictable? We can definitely do that.

Or, maybe, just maybe, we could be the visionary Fool? The creative, inspired, enthused, uplifted soul, far outside the ‘mind forg’d manacles’ of normal thought like the “unfortunate lunatic” William Blake. As John Balance once said, “Why be bleak when you can be Blake?”

Our politics and culture is, essentially, is a never-ending debate about which of these Fools should be primary. Perhaps we should hold a referendum to vote on it? Only joking! No, the trick is to decide which type of Fool you are, then vote by your actions.

And do it quickly! As I said last time – the 2020s are coming.


BOOK NEWS
My new book must be getting close, because I’m due to read the audiobook version next week. If you’re in Brighton, come along and help me launch it with some very special guests – all selected as representative of where the future is going – on May 15th at the Bosco Tent in the Brighton Fringe.

If you’re in London, I’m in conversation with Luke Robert Mason of Virtual Futures on May 20th. And – get this – there’s a 50% discount code for newsletter subscribers, you lucky sods. Use the code VFHiggs50 when you order.

Other events are being planned – see my events list for more details.


HITHER AND THITHER

I had the Psychedelic Detective Agency round for a nice chat the other week.

I’ve also been talking about the importance of story to Justine at the screenwriting site Shore Scripts.

My saintly writer friend Jason Arnopp has launched a YouTube channel called Jason Arnopp’s Terrifying House of Obsession, full of horror, VHS and retro-gaming goodness, which you should go look at.

That’s it for now. Keep safe. Don’t forget to listen to April 5th by Talk Talk on April 5th.

jhx

Newsletter #9

Newsletter #9

My newsletter gets sent out 8 times a year – you can subscribe here. As an experiment, I’m posting each newsletter to the blog as well, to see if this is useful…

 

Higgs’ chilly Octannual Manual #9

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs

Imbolc 2019

This newsletter is now one year old! Huge thanks to all of you for subscribing and making it worthwhile. I’ve found writing it to be extremely useful, so I am committing to continuing it throughout 2019.

This will take us up to the mighty 2020s.

The 2020s will be a Golden Age in your life. It will not be the easiest of decades, but it will be the one where you are most fully yourself, when you are most proud of what you create and the period in which you act most in accord with your higher nature. In the far-flung future when people bring you to mind, it will be you in the 2020s they think of. I know this is true because a wee mouse told me.

2019, then, is time to prepare. This brings us to…


ONTOLOGICAL MARIE KONDO
That 2019 is a time to get ready might explain the huge cultural buzz about the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. This applies Shinto ideas to the practice of tidying up and sorting your stuff out. Its success means that somewhere TV executives are trying to format Wiccan Cleaning the Windows and Daoist Brushing Your Teeth.

Marie Kondo advises getting rid of any household clutter and junk that doesn’t ‘spark joy’ when you hold it. This is healthy and liberating, but perhaps we can go further? Marie Kondoing your house is one thing. Marie Kondoing your reality tunnel is where it’s at.

Think about the culture you consume – are those TV shows, bands and websites really working for you? Which ones do you still get anything from, and which do you give them your time just out of habit?

Think about your prejudices – are they of any use? Do they really help explain how the world works, or are they just a shortcut to avoid thinking? For example, for years I’ve nurtured a deep prejudice about people who play golf. Would I be worse off if I took this prejudice down the skip?

Think about your beliefs – are they fit for purpose? Is it the case that some of them are a bit old and rusty? Do you own them or do they own you?

Think about the people in your life. Don’t Marie Kondo them! What are you, a monster? Hell’s teeth! Sure, problems arise, we all make mistakes, but unless someone is truly toxic, give them another chance. The 2020s are coming, remember, we’ll need all the help we can get.

If it helps, think of the 2020s as a more woke 1920s – a wild ride you’ll want to be part of, but not one that is blind to the growing shadows. Let’s all get light and ready and hold hands and dive in together, and see what happens.


DOCS AND PODCASTS
There’s a lot of interesting stuff around for fans of Bill Drummond, Jimmy Cauty and the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu at the moment. Paul Duane’s documentary about the People’s Pyramid and Toxteth Day of the Dead, What Time Is Death, is having its premiere on Feb 26 at the Dublin Film Festival. I was interviewed for this – whether or not I said anything worth including I don’t know.

(Paul Duane, incidentally, has another film starting to appear at festivals which looks interesting. While You Live, Shine is about the oldest music in the Western world. Worth keeping an eye out for – the trailer is here.)

Online now is How To Burn A Million Quid, a surprise podcast from BBC Sounds – a six part comedy recreation/fantasy about the JAMMs money burning. The makers have clearly dived deep into the mythology behind all this, but to my ears they seem to have missed the valuable jewels buried down there. To give one example, The Illuminatus! Trilogy is presented as a book to be believed, rather than a game that teaches you to question beliefs. That may sound like a petty nit-pick, but it is pretty fundamental to the story.

Still, the cast has Jeremy Stockwell as Ken Campbell and Kevin Eldon as Gimpo, and that surely is reason enough to download. You can find it on the iPlayer or the BBC Sounds app.

If you prefer your Ken Campbell to be the real deal, then the Seeker! Ken Campbell podcast (iTunes / Google Podcasts / ResonanceFM broadcast) is a must subscribe. It takes the surviving Campbell VHS and audio tape recordings and turns them into a polished archive of his one-man shows, including many performances never previously available.

It’s a major labour of love and you would pay handsomely for it, if it wasn’t free.


COMING UP
I’m starting to put together talks, festivals and bookshop appearances to support my book The Future Starts Here, which will be released in May (and for which Amazon currently have £4 off the pre-order price, just saying is all). If you’re involved in planning an event that would be a good fit, give me a shout.


AND FINALLY
Not that I want to encourage this sort of thing, but is it the case that you have been part of unwise shenanigans and you wish to blame me for your actions? If so, you are in luck, for Shardcore has launched a T-shirt especially for this scenario.

This picture alone almost makes this whole sorry incident worthwhile.

Until next time!

Grim Fandango

Grim Fandango

Last week saw the release of a remastered version of the 1990s LucasArts adventure game Grim Fandango on the Nintendo Switch.

I wrote an article for Shortlist magazine last year, explaining why it was my favourite game of all time. As that article isn’t online, I figured I’d celebrate the Switch release by posting it here.

 

Grim Fandango article

Rubacava at night was a hell of a town. I still dream of it sometimes, even though it is nearly twenty years since I was there. Its towering art-deco and modernist buildings looked designed for moonlight. Cruise liners built like Aztec temples towered over the docks. The nightclubs and beatnik poetry clubs were populated entirely by calacas, the blank-faced skeletons from the Mexican Day of the Dead festival. Rubacava was a town known for its nightlife, which was ironic, seeing as everyone there was dead.

Rubacava was a location in the 1998 LucasArts adventure game Grim Fandango. I was working on a late-night TV videogames review programme called Cybernet when it was released. The job meant that I had to play a lot of games. In most of those games, you shot at stuff until you got bored. Other games allowed you to drive things or pretend to play sports, but the majority involved shooting things. It was hard, at times, to defend gaming as an imaginative or creative pastime.

But then came Grim Fandango. The game was set in the Mexican Land of the Dead, but it was styled like 1940s Hollywood. It placed you deep inside a noir saga of post-death corruption, in equal parts Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon and Aztec religion. As you can probably tell from the description, this was not a game designed by a committee or fleshed out by a marketing department. This was a singular vision, which was not something 90s gaming was noted for. It seemed like the future of storytelling. It was a fully realised creative achievement. It was art.

Twenty years later, and Rubacava is still more vivid for me than the flat I lived in at the time. The town was so atmospheric, so beautiful and so unique that all those hours wandering its moonlit streets, puzzled and bewildered, seemed to somehow justify all the time lost to videogaming generally. It felt like gaming’s Sgt Pepper moment, the point when the bar had been raised and the medium would never be the same again.

But it was an end, not a beginning. It was the end of an era for mass-market adventure games. It was the end of companies like LucasArts creating original properties instead of relying on existing brands. The end of the idea that games could better novels and films in storytelling and originality. It is hard now to point to a successful, mainstream game that could be said to be its spiritual successor. The public, it turned out, did want to shoot things after all.

The game’s aesthetic of death and nostalgia should have been a clue: Grim Fandango was always fated to be an end, not a beginning. I found myself drifting away from gaming, unable to sustain interest in the endless identikit sci-fi, warzone or medieval fantasy scenarios they offered. But endings are also a celebration of that which will be missed. As the game itself reminds us, we’ll always have Rubacava.

 

Watling Street paperback, audiobook and podcast online

Watling Street paperback, audiobook and podcast online

Today is publication day for the Watling Street paperback, and it is a lovely thing – the ideal format for forcing copies on to people who don’t know they need it, but really do. Find it in all good bookshops, some bad ones, and online.

 

 

It is also out today as an audiobook, read by me, for anyone who wants to judge my pronunciation of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Ideal for all your commutes and long journeys, especially those involving the A5 and A2.

You can find the audiobook here.

To tie in with these releases, I have put all four episodes of the Watling Street podcast on Youtube for anyone who missed it last year or who doesn’t do podcasts. Episode 1 starts off in Kent, and features CJ Stone and Andy Miller.

Episode 2 covers London, with the help of Iain Sinclair, Lord Victor Adebowale and, at Cross Bones, John Constable, Michelle Watson and Miranda Kane.

Episode 3 hits the Midlands with help from the greatest living English writer, Alan Moore.

And Episode 4 takes us through North Wales with Cerys Matthews, Eric Maddern and Salena Godden. Plus, a remix from Greg Wilson and Peza to end things on a high.

All episodes are produced by my co-host, Dr David Bramwell, and feature music by Oddfellow’s Casino.

The KLF audiobook is now available

The KLF audiobook is now available

It took me long enough I know, but there’s now an audiobook version of The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds available. Like the Stranger Than… audiobook, it’s unabridged and read by me.

 

I love audiobooks, it’s an intimate and powerful way for me to mash up your head during your commute. Oh, and you can expect an audiobook version of Watling Street this summer. Enjoy!

Watling Street – Book and podcast launch

originally posted July 13, 2017

I am a proud parent limping out of a delivery room with uncountable stitches and a head full of endorphins – my new book has entered the world!

Her name is Watling Street and you’ll find her at your local bookshop – or online here.

She tells of a journey across England and Wales. She will not make you proud to be British but she just might make you delighted to be British.

Watling Street book cover by John Higgs

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Stranger Than We Can Imagine algorithmically compressed into 400 words

originally posted September 16, 2015

My new book Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century is finally loose in the UK – being sold in shops, downloaded as ebooks onto Kindles and as audiobooks onto phones. It will be published in Canada on October 6th and America on November 10th, with Spanish, German, Dutch, Greek, Turkish and Romanian translations on their way. There are, I’d like to think, versions for everyone.

Everyone, that is, except those who don’t want to read an entire book. What about those people?

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Cosmic Trigger Festival Talk

originally posted November 25, 2014

It’s too early to say exactly what detonated at the Cosmic Trigger play and festival in Liverpool this weekend, save to say that this particular firework was not a dud and much will be written about it.

At one point a man called Duncan Harvey handed me a memory stick containing a long lost photo shoot he did with Robert Anton Wilson at the Old Chelsea Town Hall, London, in 1986. I’ve placed my favourites throughout this post. Good, rights-clearable photos of Bob are in short supply, so if anyone has a use for these photos get in touch and I’ll connect you with Duncan. This is my absolute favourite:


I was due to give a talk and host a panel with Robin Ince, Adam Gorightly, Robert Temple and Daisy Campbell. This didn’t happen alas – whoever was in charge of the speaker’s room lost interest in that role and wandered off and the resulting confusion and free-for-all (Hail Eris!) claimed the time alloted for my talk. So rather than see that talk go to waste I’ve transcribed here roughly what I would I would have said, bar the ums and errs and general blather.

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Steve Moore (1949 – 2014)

originally posted May 1, 2014
Steve Moore (centre) at the Brinklow Crescent burial mound. Photo by Mark Pilkington

When someone dies there is a temptation to write an obituary. If I’d written an obituary for the comic writer, Fortean Times grandee and occultist Steve Moore when he died last month it would have ended with the final few sentences from his dream diary, in which he describes the end of his last dream:

“I came to what seemed to be a small lake, and decided to float across the surface, but it seemed to be only about an inch deep anyway. I then decided to run, as I wanted to get home quick.”

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Youth’s early Killing Joke-era “acid flipout”

originally posted October 1, 2013

Writing The KLF was in part an attempt to scratch an itch created by an aborted attempt to write a book about Killing Joke. There’s a lot of cross-over between those two stories, and many of the threads I explored in The KLF would have worked equally well in a Killing Joke book – not least of which being the money burning (see below).

Here’s a transcript of an interview I did with Youth for that book, regarding his “acid flipout”.

Youth, 1980, before Killing Joke gig at the Music Machine, London. Photo by Klaus Hiltscher on Flicker
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